"Let someone else go, John. What do you know about Russia?" she asks.
So, I let out a stream of conscious answer about Glasnot and Perestroika and whether Gorebechev will open up the Soviet Union to free expression. I ask her if she thinks Gorbechev was scared when the president told him to tear down the Berlin Wall and whether personal freedom will mean capitalist reforms. I tell her that I think McDonalds is just the start of the end. She tells me, again, to wait my turn and let others answer.
So, I talk about the difference between capitalism and communism and I tell her that our countries were friends during World War II (a bit of a misnomer, but just spouting off what my grandpa had told me about his time in the war). I tell her that the Russians were in space first, but we got to the moon and that's kind-of how it works. We're the tortoise and they're the hare, but we always win, because we're American. She tells me again to wait my turn and let others answer.
So, I blurt out another answer and she says, "Fine, would you like to teach this lesson?"
I nod my head. Here's my chance to share my thoughts on all the dinner table conversations about politics and current events. I am clueless regarding just how geeky our family can be. I have no idea that most kids in my class had never heard of Russia. Still, I adjust. I ask them what they think of sharing. They love the idea.
"Now, how do you feel about sharing when it's forced?"
Kids discuss their thoughts.
"What happens when everyone gets paid the same?"
A small debate ensues regarding fairness and laziness and motivation. I leave Circle Time feeling proud of the lesson I had just taught. However, as we move into recess, my teacher asks for an apology for my rude behavior.
I had no idea that the goal in learning about Russia was to find out about borsch and learn about furry hats and funny dances. I think the goal was to move from fear to understanding and every part of me simply wanted to understand the fear.
"I didn't do anything wrong," I explain. And for that act of defiance, I get "posted" for three days (where we spend recess in isolation, standing at a post). My teacher had a chance to teach me about empathy. She could have told me that my actions derailed other students. She could have walked me through my thought process. She could have found a way for me to lead small lessons again in subjects that interested me. Instead, I got "posted" next to Anthony, the class trouble-maker, who taught me my first dirty jokes.
Educators often talk about differentiated instruction, but rarely talk about the need for differentiated discipline. There's a perception out there that it's equitable to ask students to do different assignments based upon skill level, but there's no room for growth, learning and mastery of behavioral and relational skills.
What if we personalized discipline? What if we pushed students to be self-directed in their behavior in the same way that we push them toward self-directed learning? What if we treated behaviors as a learning process in the same way that we treat core content?
The following a a few shifts that teachers can make from standardized to personalized discipline:
|Standardized Discipline||Personalized Discipline|
|Rules are enforced lock-step, top-down, school-wide, based upon a very strict adherence to the program||Rules are negotiated as a community and enforced based upon context|
|Behaviors are dealt with through a codified process||Behaviors are dealt with as a learning process, focussing on student maturity|
|Teachers view all students as being essentially the same||Teachers honor and recognize student identity|
|Discipline exists to punish those who step out of line.||Discipline exists to help students think better about their actions and how they affect others|
Standardized discipline comes from a genuine desire for fairness. After all, why should some students get away with bad behaviors while others get in trouble? However, personalized discipline isn't about any student being "punished" while others "get away." Instead, it's about all students moving toward maturity.
Still, even within personalized discipline, there are some conflicting ideas that must be held together in balance:
- Universal values/ethics with individual values/ethics
- Common expectations and individual demonstrations of what those expectations look like
- Honoring the will of the group and the will of the individual
- Keeping students safe and valuing student autonomy
Classroom leaders are able to personalize discipline in a way that is still fair. They are able to maintain freedom and safety and hold together a community with norms while recognizing that students individually move toward maturity.
A classroom leader also recognizes that it's easy to fall off balance and emphasize one side of the paradox while ignoring the other. However, when this occurs, the classroom leader humbly admits to these mistakes and helps model the concept that maturity is a life-long process.
What This Means
- Teachers need to pay attention to personalized learning while also adhering to schoolwide discipline. If a fight breaks out in the classroom, simply talking through the actions won't be enough.
- When teachers shift toward personalized discipline, most administrators appreciate the fact that there are fewer office referrals and a long-term change in behavior. The key here is that teachers have to articulate personalized discipline in a way that doesn't look like simply "getting away" with bad behavior.
- It's okay to be bold as a leader and speak truth in discipline. The goal is a learning process and a maturation toward mastering one's behavior. However, that doesn't mean teachers should be doormats.
- Personalized discipline requires a personal relationship. Teachers need to get to know students. They need to pay attention to each student's personality and interest.
- Sometimes it's hard to remember that not every kid is the same as you were as a kid. They like different things. They find certain lessons and topics boring. They prefer it quieter or louder or less or more chaotic than you did as a child.
- Discipline is a journey. We sometimes forget that.
Photo Credit: by Ed Yourdon on Flickr Creative Commons